The Swiss Apprentice: You’re Hired

“Exceptional” is how the World Intellectual Property Organisation has described Switzerland’s record in the area of innovation. You can find more about the Swiss ranking here. The correlation between the quality of the workforce and economic performance is persuasive, particularly with regard to the apprenticeship system.

The photo above shows the Stadler workshop in Bussnang, Switzerland. Stadler is a successful train manufacturer, building high-quality rolling stock for European rail companies. Whilst coordinating the production of a US TV show last week, I visited the company to film an interview with an apprentice engineer.

David left school at 16 to join Stadler. However, like all school-leavers, he continued his education 2 days a week, learning the ropes the rest of the time. He told us that he expects to study to phd level, so that by the age of 27 Doctor David will have no student debt and over ten years of work experience. This will make him highly valuable to the company and ensure him a high pay-packet. The American interviewer was amazed by David’s story, recalling the experience of her peers, who tend to leave university crippled by debt and unprepared for the job market.

We also learned that there is no national apprenticeship plan imposed by the Government. Industry, the education sector and the public authorities decide together which parts of the economy are likely to needed more highly trained workers and direct resources accordingly. Just 20% of students take a purely academic route from school to university, ensuring that all higher education establishments are of a uniformly high quality and that tuition costs are affordable.

It is hard to see a downside to this arrangement, particularly when the results are plain to see. It begs the question why large, developed countries are not able to follow suit.